The U.S. administration was under fire again Wednesday, accused of a “flawed” strategy to help end the war in Syria, as a top official admitted training for moderate rebels will only begin next year.
A day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sparred with senators, lawmakers in the House criticized special envoy to Iraq Brett McGurk for a slow and inadequate response to the threat posed by Islamic State’s (IS/ISIS) militants.
“After four months of the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS still controls essentially the same amount of territory that it did in the summer, and one of the reasons for this, in my opinion, is the limited nature of this effort,” said representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.
U.S. officials have said that some 1,100 airstrikes have been carried out by the U.S.-led coalition since September.
But in the 2003 conflict against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, “we had a thousand sorties per day,” Royce said, adding Iraqis and Kurds fighting ISIS had also been denied the “heavy equipment” they need.
In Syria, where the U.S. plan is to train the moderate U.S.-backed opposition, “these Syrian groups have suffered from dire ammunition shortages in the last several weeks,” Royce said.
McGurk defended the U.S. strategy however, and stressed that Washington hoped to begin training the first of proximately 5,000 Syrian opposition rebels in March 2015.
“Part of the reason is because of the vetting standards and that we’re being very careful with this. But we’re not sitting on our hands,” McGurk insisted, adding the training would take about a year.
But Representative Ted Poe argued: “What are we doing in Syria right now? People are dying in Syria and the cavalry’s not showing up til 2016.”
“So March of 2016 then we have a plan, then we have fighters then we send them to Syria. There’s no telling what ISIS can do in that year or however many months it is,” Poe said.
“Does the United States have some other strategic plan, other than arming these folks who aren’t going to show up till 2016, dropping bombs that is marginal whether it’s been successful, helping with military aid to some of these coalition countries?”
“Yes, the train and equip program is just one small element in an overall campaign,” McGurk shot back.
“This is a multi-year campaign. Phase one is Iraq. What we’re doing in Syria right now is degrading ISIS’ capacity.”
Kerry on Tuesday called on senators to give the U.S. administration a new war powers authorization to continue the fight against ISIS.
But he was heavily criticized by some of the senators, including John McCain, who said that the Obama administration was “doing nothing” to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from slaughtering his people.
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